Why We Do What We Do

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Why We Do What We Do

Three weeks ago, I received a video text on my phone from an out-of-state number that I didn’t recognize. The video was only ten seconds long, and showed a young girl of about five years old squealing with laughter as she ran about in a large yard. It took me a minute to remember.

Two weeks ago, a teenage girl came to my clinic for her six-month follow-up. She had been struck by a motor vehicle and sustained a pelvis fracture, which I fixed. In her prior visits she had sat with her head down, hardly saying a word as her mom asked and answered all questions. On the day of her follow-up, she looked me right in the eye and smiled as she handed me a large framed collage of “selfies” she had taken every couple of weeks during her road to recovery.  She also had hand-written me a “thank you” poem.  

Last week, I saw a patient in-clinic who had been involved in a motorcycle crash and sustained an open femur fracture with bone loss, an open proximal tibia fracture and a mangled foot and ankle that I had to convert to a below-knee amputation. I reviewed the plan for future bone grafting and prosthetic fitting. Feeling disheartened again about having had to amputate his leg, I got up to move on the next patient (still two hours behind schedule), but this patient stopped me and said, “Doc, I just wanted to say ‘thank you.’”

We in healthcare seem to be constantly filled with angst. At national conferences, in medical journals and during casual chats in the hospital, conversations often devolve into topics such as decreasing reimbursements, increasing regulation and documentation requirements, maddening inefficiencies, a frustrating EMR interface, risk of litigation, high-demand patients in an increasing consumerism culture, and an overall underlying uncertainty in the future. All of this is for good reason: we do a tough job that seems to be getting more difficult. Just like everyone else, I have my own moments of disillusionment.  

However, it is nice to have moments to stop and remember why our work as orthopaedic providers is so amazing and rewarding. We fix people’s fractures and allow them to walk again. We take arthritis pain completely away with joint replacements. We replant fingers, we reconstruct ligaments to allow athletes to return to sports, we make children with congenital deformity straight again, and we take out bone tumors to save patients’ lives.

I smiled re-watching the video on my phone, recognizing that little girl for whom just six months ago I had fixed a broken femur and pelvis, and who was now running around in her back yard in Alaska – not a care in the world, and her whole life ahead of her.

Conor Kleweno, MD
Harborview Medical Center
Seattle, WA
[email protected]


DISCLAIMER: Statements of fact and opinion are the responsibility of the authors alone and do not imply an opinion or endorsement on the part of the officers or the members of WOA unless such opinion or endorsement is specifically stated. Materials may be reproduced only if Touches and the Western Orthopaedic Association are credited.

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